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EU ministers frustrated by Luxembourg, Austria bank secrecy delay

EU finance ministers voiced frustration Tuesday as Luxembourg and Austria continued to hold up approval of new rules meant to end bank secrecy and so help eliminate tax fraud.

“This impasse is completely unacceptable,” Spanish Finance Minister Luis de Guindos said while his Italian counterpart, Fabrizio Saccomanni, complained that tax fraud was being allowed to continue freely as a result.

Ministers are discussing a directive requiring banks to automatically exchange information with tax authorities in other countries which is meant to be finalised this year.

However, it requires support from all 28 European Union members and Luxembourg and Austria object that Brussels has not made enough progress with other financial centres, including Switzerland, to ensure a level playing field for all.

Saccomanni said, however, that this was just “an excuse,” while the status quo “benefited only those who cheat on their taxes.”

Lithuania’s Rimantas Sadzius, who is chairing the finance ministers meeting, said the delay meant the directive “cannot be adopted within the deadline” set by EU leaders.

“Frankly, this is becoming incomprehensible for our citizens,” French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said, adding it was “essential” to clear the dossier for EU leaders who hold a summit on December 19-20 in Brussels.